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Now as a First-Time Team Captain, Hunter Henry Continues to Thrive With the Patriots

The Patriots tight end has emerged as a team leader while still being a key contributor in the offense.

Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85).
Patriots tight end Hunter Henry (85).

Three years ago, the Patriots were in complete flux with one of the NFL's least productive tight end rooms.

New England was transitioning from the Rob Gronkowski era and didn't have much to show from their tight ends for two consecutive seasons as they looked for suitable replacements for a franchise legend. The Pats tried the draft, and they tried vets, but from 2019 to 2020, no team completed fewer passes to tight ends than the one that plays in Foxborough, Mass.

In an aggressive spending offseason, head coach Bill Belichick sought a solution to the team's tight end woes by making two splashes in free agency. Although they didn't both pan out, tight end Hunter Henry has answered the call since signing a three-year deal in the 2021 offseason.

Along with leading all tight ends with five catches for 56 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, Henry has put the tight end position back on the map in New England, ranking in the top half at the position in receiving yards and touchdowns since joining the Patriots in 2021. Now entering his third season with the club, Henry was also voted a team captain for the 2023 season.

The 28-year-old spoke to Patriots.com this week about being voted a team captain, his big opening-week performance, and potentially finding a long-term home in Foxborough in the final year of his contract. Starting with wearing a 'C' on his uniform for the first time in his NFL career, Henry feels it's a great honor mainly because it's voted on by his teammates.

"Obviously, it's voted on by teammates and coaches. That's always an honor to be recognized in that aspect," Henry said. " I don't think there's like a lot that changes, just kind of be who you are. You were voted a captain for a reason, so just continue to be who you are and show you can be consistent. I think that's the best."

As he enters the final year of his three-year contract, the Pats tight end took a second to reflect on moving from the Los Angeles Chargers to New England in the 2021 offseason.

"It's been great. I've loved my time here. It's been a blessing. It was a lot to move coast to coast and change and all that can be a lot, but it's been such a blessing to be here, and I'm excited to continue to be here for this year," Henry said. "I'm not going to get into contract stuff. It is what it is, but I'm enjoying my time while I'm here."

Henry was named a team captain alongside quarterback Mac Jones, center David Andrews, defensive end Deatrich Wise, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley, and special teams ace Matthew Slater. Since being named a captain is a team vote, those closest to Henry in the tight end room offered their perspective on what makes the eighth-year pro captain worthy.

Patriots tight end Mike Gesicki, who joined the team this offseason, has grown close with Henry on and off the field over the summer.

"He's a true professional and every meaning of the word. He does everything right. has been a leader and obviously was voted captain for the right reasons," Gesicki told Patriots.com. "Then, you see his play on Sunday. He goes out and scores a touchdown. Go to him on fourth down, makes another huge catch, so I'm happy for him for his success."

"His route running, he's super patient, doesn't get overly excited when he's about to get the ball, which a lot of guys do. But he still understands the timing and spacing of routes to help himself get open," Gesicki continued.

Although he has only been with the Patriots for a few weeks, veteran tight end Pharaoh Brown already sees Henry's work ethic behind the scenes.

"Today, I was coming out to practice. You see him out there early working on his craft, so you always like to see that, just devoted to his craft," Brown observed.

After officially being named a captain heading into the regular-season opener against the Eagles, Henry was a go-to receiver for quarterback Mac Jones with a red-zone touchdown and a key fourth-down conversion that kept the Patriots hopes for a victory alive in the fourth quarter.

On the touchdown catch, Henry runs a "shake" route where he will sell an outside break before flattening the route back up the seam. The timing of the route is something we saw Henry and Jones drill in camp practices all summer long, working on inside the ten-yard line routes off to the side during free periods, often when the rest of the team was doing special teams work. With those extra reps comes the ability for Jones to throw the ball anticipating Henry's break well before the pass-catcher turns his head to look for the football.

"Man, there's just a lot of reps, a lot of timing and feel. Mac has a good feel for how I run routes. He knows I'm gonna be in a spot when I need to be there. So that's always big," Henry reflected.

Later in the game, the Patriots went to Henry on fourth-and-8 down 22-14 in the fourth quarter. This time, the Pats are running an O'Brien staple where Henry will run an option route. When the defense plays zone coverage, Henry sits his route down between the zones to present a target for Mac. He makes a highlight-reel catch with an outstretched left hand to snag the pass and move the chains. Since 2021, Henry has added +0.10 expected points on 15 third and fourth down receptions, becoming a go-to target for Jones in those situations.

"You don't really like try for that to happen, but it happened. So thankfully, kind of stuck, and I was able to make a play in that moment," Henry added. "He's [O'Brien] been with a lot of good tight ends. So that always helps when you're with a lot of good tight ends. He knows how to use them and does a good job at it."

The Patriots needed a reliable presence at the tight end position when they went the free-agent route to add Henry. The veteran tight end has checked that box and developed into a team leader over the last two seasons. On top of his five catches, Henry also delivered solid run-blocking in 18 opportunities in the run game last Sunday.

Adding Henry into the mix could not have worked out better for both the team and the player.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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